Year one of the Creator Awards concluded last night in a blaze of glory: a pyro-filled Macklemore set, inspirational stories by the dozens, and not one but two grand prize winners taking home $1 million.
Halfway through the event, Creator Awards Global Finals host Justin Baldoni (of “Jane the Virgin” and TED Talk fame) said he doubted many in the audience had made it through the evening without shedding a tear when listening to the stories of the eight finalists. And by the end of the night, each one of them walked away with prize money to keep pursuing their visions, a surprise twist that brought one of the $1 million winners to her knees.
“My employees are now getting healthcare!” exclaimed Samantha Snabes of re:3D as the streamers and confetti floated down around her. After bootstrapping her business and taking a hit to operations when Hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico last year, she ended the night victorious and determined to expand the reach of her 3D printing device, Gigabot, which can use plastic water bottles to manufacture a positive out of a negative.
Over the last year, WeWork has given out $10.5 million to 152 innovators with the Creator Awards, a global competition celebrating ideas with impact. The events spanned the globe, with regional events in seven cities, from Austin to Tel Aviv. The start of year two follows closely behind the finale, with the first regional event of 2018 taking place in Mexico City on February 1.
“When you find your passion and bring it together with intention, magic happens,” said WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann in his opening speech in front of 5,000 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. “It’s that magic that brings us all here.”
Besides Snabes, the other million-dollar winner was J. Kevin White of Global Vision 2020, which brings a cheap and easy way to prescribe and distribute eyeglasses. A U.S. military veteran and proud dad, White’s two sons joined him on stage as he was stunned to win the biggest prize of the evening. White had been a semi-finalist going into the event, and was selected by the audience to move ahead to the final round. There, he faced a panel of judges in a Shark Tank-like Q&A session, featuring Neumann as well as Tim Ferris (4-Hour Work Week author and podcaster) and Joy Mangano (inventor of the Miracle Mop).
The prizes kept coming all night long—all other finalist took home prizes of $180,000 and up, and four special WeWork members each won $18,000 in the Community Giver category. What’s more, Daquan Oliver of WeThrive—who was a winner at the Creator Awards L.A. Demo Day last year—was awarded the Teamwork Award by Microsoft.
The night was full of high-energy performances, including a short set from D.R.A.M. and Macklemore’s electric performance closing out the night. Keeping things pumping well past midnight (with multiple costume changes), Macklemore said he was inspired by the creativity of all the finalists, and shouted out, “Let’s hear it for technology!”
When making a case for Byte Back, which provides multi-level computer training and career preparation to underserved people, Elizabeth Lindsey brought on stage Lisa R. Brown, a woman whose life had been totally changed by the organization. “I realized six jobs would never equal one good career,” Brown said. Byte Back wound up winning $360,000. Looking back on all her organization has accomplished in the last year with the help of the Creator Awards, Lindsey said, “I can’t believe how taking the risk to submit an application back in March has changed Byte Back’s trajectory forever.”
Winners of the Creator Awards Global Finals
Grand Prize: $1 million
Microsoft Teamwork Award: $36,500
Community Giver Award